NFL prospects send well wishes to ailing South Elgin teen
As a dedicated football fan, 13-year-old Ty Hawkinson of South Elgin was eager to watch Thursday night's NFL draft. But he never imagined that, in addition to watching rising stars get their shot at becoming pros, he'd hear from so many of them himself.
Ty, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer two years ago, learned Monday he'll need additional tests to determine if his cancer has returned. He asked his doctors if they could hold off on the tests until after the draft. They agreed, and while he anticipated the big night, the people who've cared for him since his diagnosis started planning.
It started with an idea: to have a player call Ty during the draft.
His caretakers reached out to friends and colleagues, looking for anyone with connections at the NFL. It started with one connection, then two. Groups like the Starlight Foundation and Athletes for Hope pitched in, and the idea morphed into more than 80 individual video messages from players to one of their most devoted young fans.
Newly drafted players wished Ty well as he continues his treatment. The Bears sent him a football signed by most of the team.
"It was jaw-dropping," Ty's dad, Andy Hawkinson, said. "He was wide-eyed and didn't really know what to say for a little bit, other than just 'Wow.'"
Ty's father said his son has loved football as long as he can remember. Last year, Ty met his favorite player, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. For this year's draft, Ty set up a poster board with all his predictions so he could track where each prospect went.
"He's a huge football fan, he always has been," Andy said. "He does PowerPoint presentations, writes his own plays. You name a team, and he can tell you all the players, where they went to college. You bring up the draft, and he'll tell you which players are going to go top five, which are going to go to the lower levels."
Allie Jones, a child-life specialist at Central DuPage Hospital, where Ty has received treatment, planned the surprise along with two of Ty's favorite nurses. She described Ty as an incredible kid whose love for football has helped him through a difficult time.
"Ty and I would spend time playing video games, or rather he would kick me in the pants playing video games -- he always beat me," Jones said.
During one of those moments, Ty told Jones his dream is to be an NFL coach. Ty's dad said it's something people often tell his son he'd excel at.
"He was not blessed with the genes to play football," Andy said. "But he was blessed with the mind to coach football -- definitely in the big leagues."
Jones said she hopes this moment will give Ty a taste of what achieving that dream would be like.
"We don't know if the NFL will ever be a part of Ty's story as far as him working there, but through this experience he is a part of it," Jones said. "He's a part of draft day today."
Andy said Ty's medical battle has been a long one, but his son is a fighter.
"It's made us so happy to see him smiling again," Andy said. "And for him to hear all these players saying on draft night that they're thinking of him and they're rooting for him, and telling him to stay strong and keep his head up … you just you can't put it into words."
Andy said he and his wife can't thank the people who made this happen enough. He said it's a testament to the NFL's commitment to helping struggling youth like their son.
Jones, who admits her understanding of football pales in comparison to Ty's, said she now plans to brush up on her NFL knowledge.
"I'm not really a football fan, but I think after this whole experience I definitely am," Jones said. "I'll try to learn the game a little bit better in honor of Ty."
And the board with Ty's draft predictions? His dad said he got every one right.